Troops take over Jefferson College

Published 12:13 am Sunday, June 1, 2008

NATCHEZ — Union troops invaded Natchez and occupied the campus of Historic Jefferson College Saturday.

These troops were not in town to burn the city, however, but rather to reenact and remember an often-neglected portion of Civil War history — the black soldiers who fought in the war.

Saturday’s reenactment was sponsored by the Forks of the Road and the Mississippi Department of Archives, and was put together for “equal history representation,” event organizer Ser Sesh Ab Heter-C.M. Boxley said.

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Visitors, soldiers and others in period costume milled around the college, where historic reenactments of a school, army hospital and union veteran’s lodge were set up.

During the re-enactment, the actors told the stories of the actual people they were portraying, beginning with their enslavement in the times before the Civil War and leading up to the entrance of the black Union soldiers.

Many of the stories began with the same phrase — “I was a slave.”

Actor Patrick Shell portrayed slave Nathan Wright, the grandfather of famed Mississippi author Richard Wright.

“Master was a drunk, and so sometimes he didn’t treat us so good,” Shell said.

For Moss Point genealogist Ruth Spillers, the reenactment was very interesting.

“I actually just learned something that I need to check out from a lady who was a slave near Ferriday,” Spillers said. “This is very educational, especially to researchers.”

Even though the reenactment began at noon, earlier in the morning the group had gathered at the Natchez National Cemetery and honored the black soldiers buried there with a brief ceremony and a six-gun volley, Boxley said.

Natchez resident Al Jackson was one of the re-enactors, and it wasn’t just what he was portraying but who he was portraying that was important to Jackson.

“I’m playing my great-great grandfather,” Jackson said. “What better man could I play?”